Speech Delivered in the Asian Women’s Parliamentarians Conference
By: Representative Emmi De Jesus, Gabriela Women’s Party
24 June 2015
I would like to thank the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung for hosting this conference and providing women in parliament a platform to discuss women’s legislation in conjunction with the realities women face every day. Specific to our experience in the Philippines, I will present the framework of grassroots women in responding to gender based violence. I know this conference is timed with the commemoration of the 20th year of the Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action. Allow me to begin by analyzing how the passage and or implementation of policies have impacted on our work on women’s empowerment and gender equality.
The Philippine government’s official reports on policies and performances in addressing gender-based violence according to the Millennium Development Goal (MDGs) and the Beijing Platform benchmarks, as presented in the United Nations, its attached agencies, financial institutions like the World Bank and the ADB and various other multilateral audiences, have received worldwide praises. For eight years now, the Philippines has consistently ranked in the top ten countries that has achieved gender equality based on the in the Global Gender Gap Index. The Philippines ranked 5th in 2013, climbing three levels from its 8th rank in 2012.It was the only country in Asia-Pacific in the top tenin 2014 with a score higher than other industrialized countries.
This is repeatedly presented by the Philippine government to back its claims of improvements in other indicators of women’s wellbeing such as poverty incidence, maternal and infant mortality, and conditions in the workplace. I will expound onthese in the course of my presentation.
We are all aware that gender-based violence is very much intertwined with poverty and lack of access to services, economic domination of an elite class, and pervasive feudal culture. Thus, formulating adequate policy responses is very challenging. Formulating adequate policies means exposing and opposing the inequities between nations, in the global context, and not only gender but more so classes, in the national context. It means uprooting the entire matrix of forces that subjugate women and the whole nation.
Our work in legislation – in crafting laws, in drafting the national budget and in the oversight of agency performances - reveals the ugly situation of women. To do our work, it is necessary to go down to our constituents, the women in the different communities. And there we see the reality, a much different situation, and indicators point to the worsening position of women in the Philippine society.
There is danger in formulating policies focused on gender-based violence alone without exposing and opposing existing national policies that cause poverty and inequality. The claims of having achieved gender equality will only serve the dominant class and preserve social structures and power relations that exacerbates the discrimination and maintains the low status of women in a society.
We in the Gabriela believe that a comprehensive and genuine policy response is to issue more bills in Congress that expose and oppose anti-people/anti-women administrative orders from the executive agencies, and more so, unjust global conditionalities such as the General Agreements on Tariffs and Trade and the different military cooperation agreements between the Philippines and other foreign powers. As the executive agencies have already committed to the ASEAN integration, we expect more negative effects on the economic security of the Filipino women, and these agreements will threaten land tenure, job security, food prices, and make the lives of our women even more difficult in the coming years.
Gender Based Legislations in Response to Women’s Situation
Indeed at present, there are around 30 laws that are meant to protect women from violence and abuses. It is important to highlight that these laws were ratified because of the painstaking effort of women who struggled to pass these laws, to help change women’s condition and gain respect for women’s rights.
GABRIELA first entered the Philippine Congress with GABRIELA Secretary General Liza Maza as a representative of Bayan Muna Partylist (People First) in 2001. And starting in 2004, Gabriela Women’s Party, consistently won in the elections in 2007, 2010, and 2013 and currently has 2 seats in the House of Representatives. It is the only partylist representing the women sector.
But long before our work in Congress, GABRIELA national alliance’s campaigns attained significant success in terms of educating the public on gender-based violence. One such issue is on the trafficking of Filipino women and children. Women’s actions against sex trafficking in the 1990s supported the legal battle against the illegal recruiter of sex trafficking victim Lisa Mamac. The illegal recruiter was charged with white slavery. This and other high profile cases gave birth to the Purple Rose campaign in 1999, a global campaign to expose and oppose trafficking of Filipino women and children. The public awareness the campaign generated backed the passage of the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act in 2003.
Other campaigns lent support to the passage of laws to protect women. The Anti-Violence Against Women and Their Children Act of 2004 to which we are currently proposing amendments to include electronic violence against women was backed by various campaigns. Education and public information strategies highlighted by all-women actions were launched such as Blow-A-Whistle Campaign which is aimed at breaking the culture of silence, PALAG! (FIGHT BACK!), an anti domestic violence campaign, and the I Vow to Fight VAW which covered gender-based violence. Through the strong cooperation between our party and Gabriela Alliance, we were able to gather support from different organizations and personalities locally and internationally.
Gabriela also worked for the passage of the Magna Carta of Women which is the complimentary law to the implementation of CEDAW.On our third term Republic Act 10398 declaring November 25 as the National Consciousness Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and Children was enacted. In the 16th congress we are proposing an amendment to the Anti-Rape Law to expound on the “consent” issue to address the difficulty for rape victims to prove the case. We are also highlighting cases where the perpetrators are in positions of authority. Side by side to the legislative effort, our Rage Against Rape campaign is our platform to continue awareness-raising on this concern. We are firm and resolved to push for more bills to empower women like the Divorce Bill, the Electronic VAWC Act to combat violence against women.
However, gender-based violence against women, especially trafficking, prostitution, and other forms of systemic violence against women will never end, unless we improve the economic conditions of women. And so the fight against violence against women continues as the Philippines remains a top exporter of women. The vulnerability of women especially women victims of natural and man-made disasters to trafficking was again brought to our attention when Typhoon Haiyanstruck the Eastern Visayas in 2013. Gabriela Women’s Party called for the immediate investigation through a Resolution filed in the House Committee on Women and Gender Equalityand has proposed to conduct an on-site investigation on the proliferation of sex trafficking in Haiyan-devastated areas. Through its own initiative, GABRIELA Alliance held the Women’s International Solidarity Mission (WISM) in Leyte in November 2014 and found out that prostitution and trafficking has proliferated one year after the disaster.
As a platform to address all forms of violence against women GABRIELA Alliance and Gabriela Women’s Party have spearheaded the One Billion Rising-Philippines, the local counterpart of the global One Billion Rising Campaign. Since its launching in 2013, it has mobilized thousands of Filipino women from all classes and issues of women workers, peasants, and urban poor were given prominence. To combat discrimination, the House Committee on Women and Gender Equality has also passed the Gabriela resolution calling for more sensitivity in the media after several celebrities delivered anti-women remarks and actions including the controversial fashion show which promoted the objectification of women by putting one female model on a leash held by a male on stage.
Public Private Partnership (PPP) and the Conditional Cash Transfer and the women’s situation
Many women have no access to housing and social services and given measly cash grants in these programs. The Philippine state promotes Public Private Partnership (PPP) instead of directly subsidizing the health care system. The national budget allotted only PhP11.60 or 25 US cents per pregnant woman, and the budget for health services only reach 25% of poor women. Maternal mortality remains a problem. In the very recent MDG report of the Department of Health, 221 out of the 100,000 mothers die from giving birth.
Meanwhile, the current Aquino administration reports with pride the passing the Reproductive Health Law in 2014, another law backed by strong women’s lobbying and action. However, it is evident that the national health policy in the first place shows its lack of concern to the poor families where majority of women belong. The health department is now rushing to sell public hospitals to private corporations instead of providing more public hospitals and services thus, forces poor women to pay for health services. The health department also passed a Department Order banning homebirthing. Other cities and municipalities followed suit with the passage of a No Homebirthing Policy. Now midwives fear of getting jailed or penalized and refused to assist women who wanted to deliver their babies at home instead of going to clinics or hospitals.
PPP is also the privatized program turning socialized housing into a profitable business that evicts the poor from their homes, and forces them to be relocated outside the city where there are no jobs, schools, or clinics, and are prone to floods every monsoon season.
To compensate for this wholesale impoverishment, the government’s response to reduce poverty is by giving out conditional cash transfers or CCT. An amount is given to pregnant women belonging to poor families on the condition that they have to go to clinics for check-ups and to children of poor households in the elementary and secondary levels in the condition that these children attend their classes. Our initial study with regard to the impact to targetted communities proved that theCCT program did not address entrenched economy-wide problems of joblessness and low incomes that cause poverty.
Our legislative response
In 2015, two incidents revealed the stark choices Filipino women workers face either when deciding to work abroad or even working locally to help their families. In April, massive protests postponed the execution of Mary Jane Veloso, a Filipino victim of human trafficking. She was convicted to die by firing squad after she was used to carry drugs to Indonesia from Malaysia by her rercuiter who lured her to work as domestic worker in Malaysia. The job offer in Malaysia was taken by Mary Jane as a very good opportunity after failing to find employment in the Philippines. She is only one of the 90 overseas workers convicted and jailed in many countries, many of whom are falsely arrested after resisting rape and/or gender based violence at their workplaces. The following month, 72 workers mostly women were killed in a fire that gutted the building of Kentex, a local factory producing rubber sandals. . They were working on contract employment, receiving daily pay way below the legal prescription and without the required social and health benefits. Meanwhile, the lack of economic opportunity for women, places them in a position to be controlled by those who are in power like their spouses or anyone who is in authority.
On this basis, Gabriela is reviewing macroeconomic policies and development strategies and proposing measures to address the needs and demands of impoverished women. And this should include the revision of laws and administrative practices to ensure women’s equal rights and access to economic resources.
Since 2004 when Gabriela first joined the electoral struggle, it was consistently at the forefront of the struggle for women’s economic, political and social rights, which ultimately also address gender-based violence.
We can only define a policy response to be adequate if the policy framework is aimed to remove all economic, political, cultural, and social basis of violence. Passing laws in Congress is not the end-all for formulating adequate policy especially when it merely chases deadlines for meeting indicators. The compliance of the Philippines to the gender indicators of the MDGs and the Beijing Platform is a case in point. Much of the actions taken by successive administrations were undertaken merely to make it appear that the State Party is meeting numerical targets promised to a multilateral agency monitoring body, while hiding the reality of women’s daily lives in glowing report. I have already mentioned the disconnect between the passage of the reproductive health law and the actual coercive anti-women policies that have been passed.
Gabriela has always been at the forefront of the fight for job, shelter, housing and education and access to health services by the poor and marginalized women. Gabriela called for an investigation on the increasing prices of basic commodities, most importantly of rice.
Gabriela included the privatization of utilities like water and electricity that further rendered women and their families poorer in our legislative agenda. These efforts gathered popular support among the people outside of the House of Representatives. Aside from filing resolutions calling for investigations, our party conducts education, information and mobilization campaigns.
In the recent budget deliberations at the Lower House of Congress, Gabrielacampaigned to stop the demolition of the Philippine Children’s Medical Center, the only children’s public hospital accessible to poor families. Again, the fight is far from over. We have to continue the fight for a free, appropriate, basic and accessible healthcare services through our LABKA Campaign.
Gabriela also proposed a legislation to abolish the Expanded Value Added Tax (EVAT), an added burden to women causing increases in the prices of basic commodities. We also co-authored bills addressing issues of the toiling population. We registered our support to the workers’ demand to increase minimum wages and salaries, and to the peasants’ call to pass the Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill. Gabriela also filed a bill seeking to amend the Labor Code, by “Prohibiting Labor-Only Contracting and Regulating Job Contracting and Subcontracting,” in response to reports of widespread contractualization of labor in the Philippines.
This 16th Congress, Gabriela Women’s Party filed a resolution in response to the Kentex fire seeking to investigate cases of neglect and violations of occupational safety and health standards. Another case we highlighted was the case of eight workers who died when they were trapped inside the burning building because they were purposely locked in. Gabriela filed the “Worker’s Safety and Health Inspection and Employer’s Liability Decree” or “Worker’s SHIELD” Bill to protect workers in their workplace, and to ensure employer and government accountability.
Gabriela alsoco-authored and actively campaigned to pass People’s Initiative Against Pork Barrel, to abolish the development assistance fund under the discretion of government officials, including the president. We demand that funds should be channelled directly tosocial services such as housing, education and health.
Gabriela has also campaigned against state-instigated human rights violations. It has proposed resolutions calling for the investigation of numerous cases of human rights violations perpetrated by state forces against civilian. Gabriela has also filed a resolution to investigate military encampment of schools and indigenous communities.We supported the Save our Schools! campaign against militarization of rural and urban communities.
To highlight the impact of violence perpetrated by the state against women, we also launched the Free Our Sisters, Free ourselves! Campaign in 1989 and has relaunched it in 2006when Liza Maza, then GABRIELA Vice-Chairperson, President of the Gabriela Women’s Party and a legislator was politically persecuted along with 50 other leaders including women.
Under the Aquino regime, women remain under constant threat of being arrested without a warrant and slapped with trumped up charges. As of June 2015, 48 women leaders were arrested and jailed increasing the number of political prisoners in the Philippines to more than 400. Many of the political prisoners including Miradel Torres and woman activist and writer Sharon Cabusao were arrested without warrant and are now in jail on trumped up charges.
Gabriela Women’s Party leads in educating the masses on their most basic rights and regularly holdsthe Grassroots Women’s Advocacy Program and Action (GWAPA) School to discuss national issues and their impact on women’s lives.
Lastly, I would like to highlight that our successes in the parliament would not be possible without the support of our constituents and of the mass organization of women, in our case the Gabriela National Alliance of Women in the Philippines.